A human factors and safeguarding expert witness advises on a case involving a shopper who was poked near the eye by a rotating bag carousel in a grocery store. Plaintiff was a customer at defendant grocery store. When she was checking out, she leaned in to obtain a paper bag that was in the space in the counter under the rotating carousel of plastic bags. As she did so, the carousel rotated unexpectedly, and one of the chrome bag holding prongs hit her in the eye area of her face, causing injury. Plaintiff did not see anyone else move the carousel.
Plaintiff alleges that the carousel was poorly designed and that locating paper bags beneath this hazardous carousel was negligent. Further, no safety measures were taken to protect the public, she alleges.
Question(s) For Expert Witness
- 1. Did the defendant follow generally accepted safe practices for machine use and safeguarding?
- 2. What errors caused the injury?
Expert Witness Response
I inspected the incident site and reviewed the deposition of the plaintiff and the store manager. The bag carousel had brackets or prongs that protruded nearly to the edge of the counter, and a person leaning inward to obtain a bag from under it could easily enter the zone of rotation of the prongs. The prongs were chrome-plated metal and doubled back to provide a rounded end, but they were not marked to make them conspicuous.
There is no evidence that plaintiff was acting unreasonably in reaching for her bag under the carousel. The carousel was free to rotate and had no governor or friction device to prevent it from rotating at a speed that could cause injury.
21. The nature of the bag carousel was clearly visible, but there was no indication that it could rotate unexpectedly, and the arc of rotation, or even if it rotated, was not apparent to an observer. There were no apparent warnings on the machine as shown in the photographs that I reviewed.
An external force had to rotate the bag carousel, but plaintiff did not see anyone at the time of the incident. The cashier likely applied the force to rotate the carousel.
The incident that resulted in the injury to plaintiff is consistent with her leaning in to obtain a bag and to have the bag dispensing carousel rotate unexpectedly with sufficient force as to do injury. There are a number defects or failures that are causes of the incident and resulting injury:
• The bag dispensing carousel rotated rapidly because it had no governor or friction device to prevent it.
• The brackets or prongs protruded nearly to the edge of the counter and were not conspicuously marked.
• There was no warning that the bag dispensing carousel could freely rotate or the limits of its zone of rotation.
Hence, in my professional opinion, the carousel constituted a dangerous condition of which the store had notice.
The expert teaches safety engineering, concentrating on human factors analysis.